Backlash

I’m going to call it right now: the Firefly backlash is about to begin. It’s garnering way too much nostalgia and respect, as well as popularity among “normals” (non-science fiction enthusiasts, or as Harlan Ellison would refer to them: Sci-fi fans), without having enough of a run to warrant such respect. The straw breaking the camel’s back, I fear, is a simple pole on i09.com pitting sci-fi “badasses” against one another, in which River has kicked everyone’s ass. This might seem plausible at first, but the truth is she’s beaten characters like The Doctor (Dr. Who), who lives infinitely and regenerates and has committed GENOCIDE when he needed, Buffy, Six from BSG, and was in the middle of beating the fucking BATMAN when last I checked. No one can beat Batman, people. No one ‘cept Mrs. Batman.

Don’t get me wrong here, I love Firefly and Serenity more than most. I mean, I watched it while it was ON THE AIR, for Chrissake. But The Doctor? River would be annihilated. The show was on for half a season. Is that tragic? Yes. Is it likely the show would have gotten even better? Given Joss’s track record, a second season would have blown everyone away compared to the first, but given Joss’s track record, the first season should have kind of blown in parts, so clearly Firefly wasn’t following the paradigm. Just because it wasn’t given a fair shake, however, is no reason for it to be making it higher on a list of best science fictions shows than The Twilight Zone. That’s ridiculous. A Firefly marathon wouldn’t even last half of Thanksgiving. That’s gotta count for something.

I’m not saying the show isn’t one of the best, most influential sci-fi shows ever made, with one of the most likable casts ever assembled. It is. But I think if we keep flooding these polls and message boards and viewer’s choice thing-a-ma-bobs, putting it undeservedly over other things, we’re asking for a backlash, one where we are hated and marginalized by our own people, the sci-fi community. And then, you know what Browncoats are? They’re the new Trekkies. Do you want that? I certainly don’t. So here’s how it is: River can beat a cylon, and her Terminator twin, and even Buffy (though come on, she’s also returned from the dead). But The Doctor? No. Batman? It should at least be a close poll if she’s going to win, but everyone knows Batman can stop her. He stopped a Predator, for fuck’s sake. Nathan Fillion is hot, but if he’s up against Ryan Reynolds? Let’s be objective here.

Firefly is more influential/better/cooler than Stargate or Supernatural or even Angel, and of course anything under those. But it is not more influential than The X-files, which means it falls below Twilight Zone, original Star Trek, ST: TNG, Babylon 5, and a slew of other shows, including Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which ran for 7 fucking years and consistently was the best thing on television and is the reason we have crap like Smallville and Supernatural and awesomeness like Veronica Mars or Reaper.

To sum up, I’m fighting the backlash early. I love Juno and Diablo Cody, indie romances that don’t end happily (Rocket Science, Adventureland, (500) Days of Summer), Death Cab for Cutie, Pearl Jam, Nirvana, and the Boston Red Sox. I’m tired of defending myself for liking things that everyone used to like, but pretends they always hated now that they’ve gotten too popular. It’s asinine and it makes me feel sad. Don’t overexpose a show that seven years ago got the shit end of the stick. I like it being a little cool to like it.

Also, WHITE PEOPLE — quit it with the Beatles thing. I get it. You grew up with them, they have a lot of really good songs, and you’re white, too. We all understand. But know that it is OKAY to not agree that something is the best of anything EVER. Plus, it takes a lot of trying for a Clash fan to like Beatles anything. They’re doing it cuz they like you and don’t want to intentionally exclude themselves. But we have to TRY. Opinions are okay, especially in music. Don’t cause the Beatles Backlash. Thank you, that is all.

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Review of Dollhouse: The Original Series

Joss Whedon’s most recent foray into network television, Dollhouse, has been as plagued as any of his prior efforts with reshoots, network interference, rumors of cancellation, and endless debates about the message being sent by its premise since before day one. I won’t rehash the premise of the series nor any of the old news that have been its numerous issues here, seeing as if you don’t know them already, you definitely aren’t interested in reading the rest of this. One thing I will say is: everything you’ve heard is most likely true.

After watching the original pilot of Dollhouse, I can’t help but be reminded of not only Firefly, and how interference from Fox led to its ultimate demise, but also of Angel, with which this show has much more in common.
Firefly‘s episodes were run out of order, some of its best episodes were never aired, and its pilot wasn’t run until it had already been cancelled. Instead we were left with a first impression that, while it was a decent, fun show, was essentially procedural — that each week, the crew of the Serenity would go on a different old Westy heist in space, and somehow elude the attentions of the authorities, the Alliance. All semblance of real human issues had been stripped from the premise for our introduction and we were left with nothing but Joss and friends’ wit and clever delivery for us to like it. In that way, Firefly is Joss’s best show, in that the show overall still holds up under such circumstances, and when taken in its original form can be viewed as originally intended. Dollhouse and Angel were not so lucky.
The original pilot for Angel was an extremely bleak, Noir look into the underbelly of L.A., its demonic mythology a mature, disturbingly realistic metaphor for Hollywood and the town on which it feeds. Its network, the WB (now CW), did not understand it, and the pilot and thus the entire show was altered before it was shot — still dark and somewhat edgy, still more mature than the teen vampire show from which it had been spawned, it was not nearly as ballsy and more importantly, this divergence from Joss and David Greenwalt’s original vision can be pointed at for Angel‘s first season seeming to flounder in places. Rewrites done at a certain speed, with some bit of the heart missing from an original concept as writers subconsciously know they are being told to write less challenging material, leads to less original, more formulaic and even stolen plots.

Dollhouse’s story is almost identical, except that where it diverges, it converges with Firefly‘s tale. The pilot was shot, but never aired, while bits from it were sprinkled through the rest of the episodes. The new first episode gave a faulty, procedural first impression, and lacked most of the emotional depth required to sell the show’s complicated premise to us, and its last episode, one of its most emotionally reverberative and politically charged, was not aired in the US.
“Echo”
I won’t spoil much of the pilot for you (and it is possible to be spoiled, this episode surprised me in several ways, particularly with the information I had about the rewritten continuity from watching the other episodes). I will, however, divulge some vague information about what is different about this original introduction.
Adelle sells the Dollhouse directly to us, by way of selling a customer whose POV is the camera’s. We learn more about what an active is and how engagements work in this sequence, and more clearly, than in the first 5 episodes of the aired version. This is intercut with Echo on three separate engagements that show the criminal (a realistic drug deal, not an art vault heist), romantic (a true love engagement as our first impression, as opposed to bondage and motorcycles), and most importantly, humanitarian (Echo saves a young girl from prostitution, ironically allowing us to femininely root for a doll early on) shades to what the Dollhouse does. And boy does she sell it. I wanted a doll after listening to her, though I don’t think I would actually purchase one. It comes off like the epitome of capitalism at work, and you find your own mind dancing in the grays.
Topher sells himself. He is still jaded and a tad despicable, but the jaded becomes the more important aspect of his personality. Basically, he argues his point, something we don’t realize he has in the on-air episodes, and does so well: We are all programmed, and the actives are getting the better shake at the end of the day. He seems to actually be the most realistic of the characters, no matter how much you hate the point of view — to deny the truth in his words is to, in a way, accept your own programming rather than become self-aware.
Dr. Saunders and Victor get introduced in much more subtle, creepy ways that are just plain handled better.
Paul meets Echo right the fuck off, and isn’t a moron nor a lovesick puppy about it. He’s as paranoid as he should be, and maybe a little more angry about all the shit he’s putting up with than you’d expect. This is probably because his fruitless search has already been going on for some time before the pilot, which wasn’t made as real in the regular continuity.
There is no trigger phrase (“treatment”) in the pilot. Whether they were going to add that later after what happens in this episode, I don’t know, but given the circumstances, I think it’s a good idea if only as a comfort zone for the handlers.
The show is already as it became when it got stronger — less about the engagement and more about the house itself. If we already had this information going into a couple of engagment episodes, we could have relaxed and enjoyed the ride — we know the show is deep, but let us see some silliness for a few eps while we get to know everybody’s softer side. Without a proper introduction to the story’s themes, we are left wondering “Is this it? Is this going to be all?”
The Dollhouse itself seems smarter, and though you know it’s at least a little sinister, it’s in more of a regular Corporate America sort of way — the actives are getting paid, the house is getting paid, the customer gets what they want. Boyd questions the morality, Saunders worries about their health and development, Topher tells them why both are bad or at the very least fruitless ideas. The actives are volunteers, you’re an employee, and the actives aren’t supposed to “get better”, they’re supposed to stay right where they are. Stop making waves.
All in all, the metaphors for our society are more present, the point of view of each of them stated clearly — we are all dolls, and each of the employees of the house represent a way of viewing our predicament. This episode definitely does a great job of placing us firmly in the place of the dolls, Echo in particular, so that it wouldn’t have mattered how little personality each possesed. They are us.
“Epitaph One”
As far as the unaired final episode goes, well… I’m not sure I even wanted to see this. Talk about spoilers! The entire episode is one massive Dollhouse spoiler for what is to come. Certainly it can stand in as the last episode of the entire series, and is reminiscent of Babylon 5‘s “The Deconstruction of Falling Stars” an episode also made to serve as either a season finale or series finale, which skips forward through time in segments, finally showing us the impact of the station and its inhabitants on people living 1,000,000 years later. Dollhouse’s equivalent, as the name might suggest, is far less optimistic, yet is possessed of similar issues.
The episode is positively brilliant, but is it blowing the proverbial wad of the series? (I’m still looking for the proverb about the blown wad; I know it’s in there, somewhere.) “Deconstruction”‘s forecast, though not concerning most of the main cast, took some of the suspense from the final season, and certainly from the series finale, which did a similar futuretelling only with nothing but the main cast. It did introduce new suspense, however, and the theorizing of how point A gets to point Z, something “Epitaph One” does with its mere name. Will we be getting an “Epitaph” at the end of each season, possibly continuing the exploits of our little band of revolutionaries, should the show continue? I certainly hope so.
That being said, I trust Joss to a certain extent to deliver the goods despite his showing what appear to be all his cards — he did it consistently with the last half of the Dollhouse season. Every time I thought something had happened too quickly and that it would be hard to top, Joss soon topped it with something I felt similarly about, until I finally relaxed and realized it was less that Joss was rushing his story and more like he was getting all the obvious plots and twists out of the way, so we could stop wondering who’s the last Cylon and just enjoy the show, something Ron Moore perhaps should have done (Of course, I chalk most of my problems with BSG’s ending from it being 4 seasons instead of the perfection of a 5 season arc, which Lost was going for but has been forced to over-extend, and Joss has mentioned he has plans for with Dollhouse).
Overall, these two episodes were everything I wanted out of them, and that is as depressing as it is hopeful. I can’t shake the feeling that there may be more to their not airing than meets the eye — these two episodes are the most clearly anti-corporate, paranoid, and downright meaningful of the show thus far. These are the two episodes that ask the truly difficult questions and do not try to answer them for us, doing what true science fiction is meant to do, above all else: make us think. Is that exactly what Fox doesn’t like its audience doing?

Did Whedon Know Everyone Would Be Watching Online?

Watch an episode of Dollhouse. Each one begins and ends with a series of tiny video squares rushing towards and away from the screen, respectively. Watch any video on Hulu. It begins with a slightly less intense, slightly slower and more comforting version of the exact same effect. Now, in a less obvious place, mouse over the Hulu video and take a look at your clickable options. Notice the shape of the “share” link — the five small circles connected to a center point by lines, arranged in a sort of upside down star pattern. Now look at where the Actives sleep in Dollhouse. Familiar?

Never mind that they both are vaguely reminiscent of inverted pentagrams, universally recognized as a symbol of the devil (although regular pentagrams are protection sygils). Did Joss Whedon subconsciously design his show with Hulu symbolism? Eliza was in the second major ad for the site, in their delightful ad campaign made up primarily of stars from shows that are going to do well online (30 Rock and Dollhouse do not have good ratings, but do excellently in “time-adjusted viewing”, and Family Guy was brought back on the air due to DVD sales, something they should have waited for when it came to Firefly). Or, did he plant subconscious connectors between his show and Hulu? Does he want us to watch it online this time? He’s mentioned that the networks are watching those numbers now, and Eliza says that may save the show.

Truly, if you’re going to put anything on Fridays, the Nielson ratings, which only actually correlate to 112,000 or so people in the entirety of the US (and its the type of people who get Nielson boxes), are essentially useless. Online, DVR, and DVD sales are much better tabulators, and they count every customer, as opposed to Nielson guesswork.

I suppose it comes down to, is Joss simply in the online mindset now, as he’s hinted whenever asked about new projects, or is it all a plot to take over the world, as Hulu suggests?